I am not a superstitious person, but I’m just curious: do you launch your bow or stern first for luck?

Always bow first.
But that’s just a matter of practicality since I launch in waves a lot and it is easier to launch forward in waves and wind.

I have my old seakayaking hat for luck. But it’s not superstition, it just smells that way. The flock of seagulls following me are the superstition part.

Sometimes I’ll launch stern first off a rocky beach in calm conditions to avoid getting my skeg jammed with rocks (not superstitious).

Bow or Stern
Personally, I like to see where I’m going, so generally bow launches are preferred, but conditions sometimes play a role as follows:

At Pt. Pinos, on a whale watching trip, I was launching facing south when the waves were hitting the rocks almost perpendicular to the rocks protecting the launch beach. On larger waves, water washed in from the sides and swept the beach from opposite directions. Not ideal launching conditions, but it was relatively calm that day.

What I hadn’t counted on was the time it took to gauge the wave, hop into the boat, launch and escape the beach. I saw that the incoming wave set looked small, so I hopped into the boat, yanked on the spry skirt, grabbed the paddle and started the dance it takes to move boat from beach to water. All this took a bit longer than planned. A wave came in that was large enough to sweep the beach and the two currents hit the boat bow first, then stern.

The currents spun boat, bow north, stern south, so I just back-paddled out into the ocean and all was well. A larger wave may well have created a fun little haystack right under me - one of the hazards of rock gardens, I guess.

The ocean is fluid, superstitions are rigid, so the two don’t mix all that well, IMO. One has to be flexible and do what needs to be done in the prevailing conditions.


On the situation, but normally bow first, whatever is easiest.

That said, my kayaks ALWAYS ride bow forward on top of the car. Going stern first seems demeaning to the kayak, somehow… (and looks stupid) :slight_smile:

However, on my first whitewater trip to the NOC back in the eighties, I rented a whitewater kayak, and on the designs at the time, the bow and stern were perfectly symmetrical. I threw it on the NOC trailer stern first. The instructor would not budge until I put the kayak bow first. “It’s a whitewater kayak, I replied, one end is just as ugly as the other!” I had to switch it before she would drive to the put-in.

Greg Stamer

A seal launch, stern first, can be

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both interesting and film-worthy.

On my car, Subaru Impreza wagon, the roofline is such that carrying a fishform SK results in the bow riding good foot higher than the stern.

If longer trip is planned I typically carry boats stern first.

yeah, boat got car sick stern forward
…seemed very happy once I pointed it bow forward on car.

Protecting the skeg

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Usually stern first, but what luck has to do with it is beyond me. In a skegged boat, you want the stern floating before getting in to avoid damaging it.

Stern first has also been the best idea more than once for me because of waves. If you have to hop in and get the skirt on while pushing out in waves all at the same time, you get a lot less water dumping into the cockpit before the skirt is secured going backwards. Your body blocks some of the incoming. I don't usually spin around to look in that stuff, pretty good way to get off balance and get spun sideways. I just hope that my innate balance and sensation of position are fully in gear - and paddle my arse off until there isn't anything white around me.

same car…
I also have a Subie Impreza (great car) but I have oversized bars and always carry my boats “flat”, rather than use J-cradles. I have both fish-form and Swede-form kayaks. For my racing boats I’m using a GoodBoy kayak “V-bar” to get a nice eight foot spread.

Greg Stamer

good point
To clarify for everybody else - I carry my boats on the side, except for WW hulls which are usally flat.

On my 2006 wagon, the stern bar is noticeably lower than the bow.

good point
Also less chance of a pebble jamming your skeg that way.

On my solo trip around Newfoundland I had so much trouble with my skeg jamming (perfectly sized pebbles), that on calm days (small surf) I would slide the kayak into the water, test and/or clear the skeg, and then climb into the kayak with the hull afloat.

It’s very frustrating on a solo trip to launch through difficult surf and only then discover that your skeg is jammed.

Next solo trip I may experiment with the trick where you tape over the skeg slot, with a length of string tied to the tape, and pull the string to remove the tape after launching.

Greg Stamer

That’s an interesting reason.

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I never thought of it in terms of protecting the skeg. Can't you retract yours?

I paddle an Eddyline Nighthawk175 and have always launched bow forward. I may have gotten a pebble or shell piece in the skeg once or twice since most of our southeast coast beaches are sand. It is usually easy enough to return to the beach or deal with at the next landing. A skilled paddler doesn't necessarily need a skeg anyway unless you boat's design or loading makes it particularly prone to weathercocking.

It's easy enough just to gorilla walk the boat out forward on the next incoming wave when you are already in it. I think backing out from a beach, even with smallish 1-2' waves would get me a cockpit full of water or a broken paddle. Not to mention a potential broach trying to turn it seaward while in the surfzone.

I won’t ask. But I’m tempted to ask. But I won’t. But I’m tempted: … Was one end is just as ugly as the other?

It might be a cultural thing too
My first exposure to kayaking was on a trip in the San Juans with Steve Scherrer and Alder Creek. Everyone launched stern first (a little unsettling for me, a beginner). When I moved to California, it didn’t take long to notice that everyone launched bow first (and actually express concern if you try it stern first).

or more about typical beach conditions
places that have jamming sized pebbles and/or small surf could favor stern first. I (in So Cal) mostly launch into bigger surf but with sand that would rarely jam so I go bow first.

Hey bowrudder, a question…

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What do folks in CA generally think about landing in heavy, or even moderate surf, backwards. Fortunately most southeast coasts don't have dumping waves or rocks, but I have had a few folks terrified of coming in through the surf zone in even moderate breakers. Certainly, lack of surfing skills is a factor. But one survival techique is to time it and let the waves push you in gradually as you face seaward, thereby maintaining control by holding into them when getting hit by breaking waves. It usually works quite well. Not as much fun, and a little slower, but less beach yard sale potential too.

A lot of the beaches in the San Juans were of nasty skeg-jamming pebbles

you hear about it
but in my experience, people just try to time it, surf, and then side surf

Yup I’m Superstitious
I’m superstitious of getting in boats that are standing on either their bow or stern I have this weird feeling they are going to tip over when I climb in them. I also don’t have warm feelings about getting in boats that are upside down right next to the beach, I guess it’s because I don’t like banging my head on the bottom.

Otherwise it depends on what boat I’m paddling and where I’m paddling. If possible I’ll float the whole boat and then get in with it sideways to the beach - favorite technique with the Rapidfire. If I’m using the plastic boat I’ll normally get in with the bow out in the water, the boat has a rudder so no concern about rocks in the skeg box, scraping the stern on gravel or sand etc. If it’s the kevlar boat I’ll float it and get in either bow pointing out or sideways depending on depth of water and beach conditions. With the Wenonah canoe I’ll get the bow person in first and push off as I hop in the stern, so I guess you’d call that bow out.